July 30, 2012


I decided to make a cake for my friend Elizabeth’s birthday and it needed to be gluten free.  I liked the look of the cake in this recipe on the Good Food website for cherry bakewell cake.  I loved the way the icing dribbled over the top of the cake in the picture !!

pink cake

In the end I used a recipe from a book called “the gluten-free baker” by Hannah Miles, which I borrowed from the library.  I adapted the recipe for Victoria sponge cake, which contains lots of ground almonds anyway, by substituting the vanilla extract in the original recipe for almond extract.  I then used cherry jam in the filling instead of strawberry and decorated the top with pink icing and cherries.

pink cake2

I had never used gluten free flour before and because there were a lot of ground almonds in the recipe I beat the butter and sugar really well as this was going to lift them and make the cake light and not dense.  I also had to put a lot of effort into beating the cream.  Being in France I used crème entière, which seems to need a lot more whisking to become thick than the English double cream I am used to.

pink cake3 I was also very careful to avoid accidental contamination of ingredients, for example using an unopened bag of sugar and a new block of butter.  It only takes a little gluten to cause a problem, such as from lazily dipping the spoon used for taking ordinary flour into the sugar bag, or a few toast crumbs in the butter.  It just isn’t worth the risk.

pink cake4 Believe it or not, the colour of the icing is exactly what I wanted.  After all if a girl can’t have pink on her birthday it’s a poor do !!  The icing was quite runny and drizzled nicely over the edge of the cake.

pink cake5 However, it was possibly a little too runny as it continued to dribble down the sides of the cake, forming a pink puddle on the cake plate.  This was lucky in a way as we had a 50-minute drive to Elizabeth’s house and with the cake firmly glued to the plate with icing all I had to worry about was the top half sliding off the bottom half as we made our way along the twisty lanes !!

pink cake6 I carried the cake wedged into a box on my lap and it arrived in one piece.  I could have taken it off the plate, cleaned the icing from the plate and putting the cake back but Elizabeth liked the look of the puddle of pink icing so we served it just as it was.  A girl can never have too much pink !!


For the cake

185g softened butter

185g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g ground almonds

125g gluten free self raising flour

150ml crème fraîche

½ tsp almond essence

For the filling and icing

3 tblsp cherry jam

250ml double cream or crème entière

4 fresh cherries

2-3 tblsp icing sugar

2 drops liquid pink colouring

pink sugar crystals


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and base line 2 x 20cm sponge tins.

Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat or whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with each addition.

Add the other cake ingredients and fold in gently until evenly combined.

Divide between the two tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes are firm and golden and pass the skewer test.  Remove from the oven, turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Whip the cream until firm and spreadable.  Spread the jam on one of the sponges and spread the whipped cream on top.  Put the other cake on top.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add 2 drops of pink colour, or enough to achieve the right depth of pink.  Add water, a teaspoon at a time, and mix together until a runny icing is formed.

Spoon the icing onto the top of the cake, somewhere in the middle and, using a small spatula or back of a spoon, push the icing towards the edge so that it dribbles down over the sides.  Sprinkle some sugar crystals on top and decorate with the fresh cherries.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.  Keep refrigerated because of the fresh cream.

July 24, 2012


Quite a few moons ago, I spotted a recipe in one of the blogs I read regularly for “chocolate pudding cake with raspberries”. 

blackcurrants6I apologise sincerely to the writer of the blog but try as I might, wracking my poor old brain, I cannot recall whose blog it was.  Suffice it to say, I was so taken by the recipe at the time that I recklessly bought the book that it came from, ordering it from Amazon - “Eat, drink, live” by Fran Warde.eat, drink, liveThis is, I suppose, no more daft than buying a CD on the strength of one track heard on the radio.  As it turns out, it is a beautiful book, full of promising recipes to tempt me into the kitchen.

We_Should_Cocoa_Logo So, when I read that this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, organised by Choclette of Chocolate Log blog and Chele of Chocolate Teapot blog, was for something combining chocolates with blackcurrants, this recipe sprang to mind.

clumber1 clumber2 That very same day, a miserable and rainy Sunday, Nick, Lulu and I decided to brave the chilly drizzle and go to Clumber Park for a walk and an ice-cream.  We visited the walled kitchen garden, which was an absolute delight and I would recommend to anybody and everybody.  At the entrance there were punnets of blackcurrants on sale, freshly picked that morning.

I love blackcurrants.  The sight of them takes me back to my childhood, picking them from the bushes in my grandmother’s garden and watching her make them into jam on her green enamel stove with the big knobbly taps.

clumber3The original cake recipe uses lots of dark chocolate and a spoonful of instant coffee.  I checked my storecupboard and I didn’t have enough plain chocolate but did have a bar of Espresso dark chocolate which would make up the quantity.  So I decided to use that and omit the addition of the instant coffee.

blackcurrants1 blackcurrants2

There is an awful lot of chocolate in this cake !!  It makes a chocolate torte style of cake, definitely a dessert cake and not the afternoon tea variety.  The blackcurrants looked lovely on top of the mixture before it went in the oven and I’m pleased to say looked just as beautiful when the cake was done, like little jewels studded on the top.  They didn’t sink and weren’t crozzled either.

blackcurrants3The recipe suggests dusting the cake with icing sugar, which I dutifully did, then regretted immediately, as the jewel-like effect of the lovely little currants then disappeared.

blackcurrants4 blackcurrants5It was not a cake for the faint-hearted.  It had an intensely chocolate-overload kind of flavour which contrasted really well with the tartness of the blackcurrants.   The hint of coffee in the background was just right.  It would make a stunning centrepiece for a dinner party, served in very slim slices with a little cream or ice-cream. 

I imagine it would also be delicious with raspberries as an alternative to the blackcurrants – the same kind of sharpness but not such an extreme contrast in flavour.

Here’s my adaptation of the original recipe:


150g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa content

100g espresso flavoured dark chocolate

200g butter

5 eggs

100g caster sugar

75g plain flour

150g blackcurrants (I washed and topped and tailed mine)

icing sugar for dusting (optional)


Preheat the oven to 170°C/150° fan/ gas mk 3.  Grease and line a 23 cm springform cake tin.

Break the chocolate into pieces and put it with the butter in a small saucepan.  Stir over a low heat until melted together and smooth.  Set aside.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy, which may take about 5 minutes.

Gently fold in the flour and the chocolate mixture until well combined. 

Poor into the tin and sprinkle the currants on top.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until firm and coming away from the sides of the tin.  Cool in the tin for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack.

Serve dusted with icing sugar and a little whipped cream or ice-cream.

Serves 10-12 portions – a small slice is plenty !!

July 22, 2012


chocolate cupcakes4Quite a while ago, what seems like eons in fact, and on some other planet, I opted to take part in an ingredient swap organised by Ruth at Makey Cakey.

I was paired with Sarah, of the lovely blog, The Cupcake Architect.

I sent Sarah some mystery ingredients and at about the same time a little parcel of mystery ingredients plopped through my letterbox from her.

chocolate cupcakes1a

There was some organic cinnamon flavoured chocolate, a little packet of crystallised rose petals and a packet of mini love hearts.  Now what on earth should I make out of them ??

chocolate cupcakes5Cupcakes of course !!

Then things got busy at home and at work and my poor scrambled brain could not get to grips with mystery ingredients.  So I brought them on holiday with me to France - hoping for the time and lack of distractions I needed to bake something a bit special.

And that is where I am as I write this now, sitting outside on our little terrace which overlooks the rooftops of the village.  The church bells have chimed their last chime for the evening at ten o’clock and all is quiet.  The swifts and swallows have long since finished swirling overhead and the bat formation team has gone to bed too.  The only things which break the silence are the occasional hoot of an owl and the murmur of a distant harvester as the farmers work late in the fields.  The night air is pleasantly cool and we will no doubt still be sitting here for another hour, finishing our wine and enjoying the peace and quiet and the view of the roofs and chimney pots of our neighbours. 

This is what I mean about another planet.

chocolate cupcakes2 To make the cupcakes I used Stork Baking Liquid, adapting my strawberry cupcakes recipe, but only put in a little cocoa powder so that the delicate flavour of the cinnamon milk chocolate in the icing would not be overpowered.  They were yummy – the rose crystals added a lovely crunch and unusual flavour to the topping.

chocolate cupcakes1I baked them in the afternoon when it was gloriously sunny but the light was fading by the time they were finished, so I took them down to the cellar where it was cooler, to cover them up and leave them until the morning to take their pictures.  But they looked so pretty on our brand new cellar shelves that I photographed them there and then.

chocolate cupcakes3Before long these shelves will be covered with cobwebs and all the stuff that we keep in the cellar……..

Here’s my recipe for chocolate cupcakes, decorated with cinnamon chocolate, crystallised rose petals and love hearts.  And a huge thank you to Sarah for sending me such lovely ingredients and inspiring me to bake something I wouldn’t usually bake.


For the cakes

115g Stork Baking Liquid (or margarine or butter, softened)

115g caster sugar

2 eggs

140g self raising flour

½tsp baking powder

30g cocoa powder

For the icing

100g cinnamon flavoured milk chocolate (or any milk chocolate)

100g unsalted butter

125g icing sugar

your own choice of decorations or sprinkles


Preheat the oven to 180°C/165°fan/gas mk 4.  Put 10 cupcake cases into a muffin tin.

Put the Stork liquid, sugar and eggs into a large bowl.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa and beat until smooth and creamy.

Divide between the cupcake cases and bake for 25 minutes until firm to the touch.   Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into squares and put into a heatproof bowl.  Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water,  and leave until the chocolate is melted, stirring once or twice.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

(A good tip here is that it is important to make sure the inside of the bowl is dry and no water gets into the chocolate or it will spoil.)

Put the butter in another bowl and sift in the icing sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add the cooled chocolate and beat again until smooth.

Pipe or spread a swirl of the chocolate icing onto each cake, sprinkle with the rose crystals and dot a few love hearts here and there.  There are no rules about what you should do with the remaining love hearts if you don’t use the whole packet………..

Makes 10 cupcakes.

July 4, 2012


Taking part in some of the baking challenges organised by other bloggers each month is quite…….a challenge !!  I find myself cooking things I would otherwise never cook and using recipes that I wouldn’t normally give a second look.  Another delight is seeing what other people have cooked for the same challenge, which has given me loads of ideas that I would love to try.

nigella tartIn the round up of last month’s entries for Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by Kate of What Kate Baked, there was an entry for easy summer fruit tartlets from a blog called Fabulicious Food.  The idea came from a recipe in the book “Nigella Express” and I thought to myself, “I think I might have that book”.

nigella tart1aAnd sure enough, there it was, on the shelf, amongst all my other Nigella Lawson cookbooks, most of which are consulted fairly frequently, and I had completely forgotten about it.  In fact I don’t remember buying it at all and certainly have never cooked anything from it.  I feel slightly guilty about that.  How can anyone have such a good cookbook in their collection and have never used it or even noticed it was there ??

Anyway, I looked at the recipe the little tartlets originated from, called “nectarine and blueberry galette” and decided to have a go.  What a revelation !!  This has to be the quickest and easiest fruit tart I have ever made and it was lovely.  Not the most glamorous or the most elaborate, but dead easy to make and it turned out beautifully in a “rustic chic” kind of way.

nigella tart1 nigella tart2

I happened to have some nectarines, plums and blueberries in the house so I made it pretty much as described. 

Except that, anyone who buys ready-made and ready-rolled pastry in France will know that it comes in a circle.  The pastry you get in the UK comes in an oblong – or at least it does in my experience.  And in fact, in the January sales I treated myself to an oblong loose-bottomed tart tin which is the exact size to fit the ready-rolled pastry you get here, and it works a treat.  It was such a bargain that I nearly bought a second one to take to France but then I remembered that there was no point because the French pastry comes in circles.  (I could always make my own pastry to fit the oblong tart tin but……..when in France we are on holiday after all !!)

The point of all this is that I used a pack of ready-rolled pastry that we had brought back from France and put in the freezer, so it was a circle.  In any case, you don’t need a tin at all for this recipe, you just unroll the pastry onto a lined baking sheet.  I even used the baking paper that the pastry came rolled up in as the liner for the baking sheet.  How easy is that?

nigella tart3 You mix some apricot jam with some double cream, spread it onto the pastry, arrange fairly thin slices of fruit on top, sprinkle some sugar over and bake.  I used two nectarines, three plums and a good handful of blueberries.

It was done in next to no time, the fastest tart I have ever made and it was yummy.  It looked great too.  The possibilities are endless I think, sliced apple and strawberry, apricots and flaked almonds……..lots of combinations spring to mind, including the little tartlets that gave me the inspiration in the first place.

I can’t believe I have never tried anything like this before !!


1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry (about 375g)

2-3 nectarines

2-3 plums

a good handful of blueberries

2 tblsp apricot jam

2 tblsp double cream

2 tsp demerara sugar


Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°fan/gas mk 7. 

Unroll the pastry onto a lined baking sheet.  Using the point of a sharp knife, score a circle (or oblong) about 2cm inside the edge of the pastry to form a border, being careful not to cut all the way through.

In a small bowl, mix the apricot jam and double cream together until evenly combined and spread it over the pastry within the scored circle, using the back of a spoon.

Remove the stone from the nectarines and slice each one thinly into about 16 wedges.  The plums should be sliced into 6-8 wedges so that they are about the same thickness.  Arrange the fruit in concentric circles on the pastry, inside the scored border, or in rows if your tart is oblong.

Scatter the blueberries over the fruit and sprinkle the sugar within the outer border.  This border will rise to form a crust.

Bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the jammy mixture is bubbling slightly.  Serve warm with cream, ice-cream, or whatever you fancy.

Cuts into 6 - 8 good slices.

nigella tart4Here’s a savoury version.  I used two tablespoons of confiture d’echalotes (caramelised onion marmalade or chutney in the UK) mixed with two of double cream for the base and piled on smoked salmon pieces, goats cheese, tomatoes, a lightly cooked sliced leek, slices of pepper and mushrooms.  I forgot to photograph it when it was cooked but it was yummy – you will have to use your imagination !!

This is one of those versatile recipes that is so useful I think.